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legal form various
founding 1969
resolution July 6, 2009
Seat Columbus , United States
Branch Internet

Compuserve ( own spelling : CompuServe ) was an American Internet service provider founded in 1969 , which grew into the world's largest online portal in the 1980s and was an important pioneer for the use of the Internet in private households in the 1990s . Compuserve pioneered numerous new communication technologies, such as online chat , e-mail , Special Interest Groups (SIG) and the storage of data in the cloud . The digital image format GIF , which is still in use today, comes from Compuserve . In 1998 Compuserve was taken over by the former competitor AOL . On July 6, 2009, the service was finally shut down.


Until 1979

The beginnings of Compuserve go back to 1969, when the insurance group Golden United Corporation set up a data center in Columbus (Ohio) under the name Compu-Serv Network . The purpose was digital bookkeeping. A little later (presumably in 1972) Compu-Serv began to expand its service to other companies who logged in using the local telephone number of the data center and then used processor time to carry out their calculations. Personal computers did not yet exist in 1972. Compu-Serv was one of several service providers in the USA that rented out computing time at the time. In August 1979, the company opened itself to the public, including private individuals, in order to implement night-time utilization of the data center. This service was called MicroNET and cost the customer $ 5 per night in addition to the one-time registration fee of USD 9.

Because of the low cost of access, MicroNET became a success with early computer users; most had home-made computers or early Apple II and Commodore PET PCs . Networking was not yet in the foreground. Private customers read stock market prices, the weather and a small selection of newspaper articles "on line". In 1980 this growing division was outsourced and CompuServe Inc. was created . This was the first service to offer PC users e-mail services. In 1979 the mathematician and computer scientist Maurice Cox joined the company and became one of its leading figures for many years. Business customers financed Compuserve for many years. It wasn't until 1990 that the private customer segment produced just as much revenue. This differentiated Compuserve from later competitors in the market, who based their business model solely on private customers, including Compuserve's only competitor at the time, the online service The Source, founded in 1979 .

Each customer was given an identification number (ancestor of the e-mail address), which for Americans consisted of eight or nine digits separated by a comma (example: 75300,234). German customers (from 1989) received nine-digit identification numbers (example: 100345,678).


The heart of Compuserve were the Special Interest Groups (SIG). This was understood to mean “bulletin boards”, where everyone could contribute their knowledge and ask questions on a specific topic. One SIG could be about medical issues, another about travel. The group of computer graphics experts later became the world's largest computer graphics conference, called SIGGRAPH .

Electronic mail (e-mail), which was initially neglected, was improved significantly in the 1980s, called EasyPlex and enjoyed increasing popularity. The address book could not exceed 50 entries. It was subject to strict restrictions in terms of scope, i.e. the amount of data. In 1990 the limit was 50 kilobytes. If you wanted to send a file that was larger, you could use the special command to navigate to GO ACCESSthe area for public data exchange and store the file there publicly. However, only users who knew the exact name could find and download the file. It remained in the system for 24 hours, after which it could be used to free up space for others. This concept was the first known occurrence of a data-cloud ( Cloud ).

A large area at Compuserve was called the Electronic Mall . It was used to buy goods and was therefore a very early, if not the first, form of electronic commerce . In July 1980, Compuserve was the first online service to start selling a newspaper on its computers: Reading the local newspaper Columbus Dispatch cost 3,000 customers at the time $ 5 per hour; it was not possible to save. A little later, 13 more newspapers followed.

Another fundamental innovation in 1980 was the real-time - chat , sold under the name CB Simulator . In 1980 one of the largest US tax advisory groups, H&R Block Inc., bought Compuserve for $ 23 million. The rise of Compuserve continued through the financially strong parent company and new developments. The electronics retail chain RadioShack added the CompuServe Starter Kit to its range in the 1980s and sold 7,000 of them annually. In 1987 Compuserve introduced the GIF graphics format, which is still widely used today . In 1989, 500,000 members used the online service, and in May 1989 Compuserve began expanding into Europe. 1985 GEnie posed as a competitor. GEnie came to Germany in 1990, but never caught up with Compuserve.

The Times of London first described Compuserve in a 1981 article:

"Compuserve offers a teletext- like service that enables users of personal computers to download software from a mainframe over the telephone."

The starting price for using Compuserve was relatively low, but enabled all amateur areas to be used. Additional professional services cost extra. For example, those who wanted to read the latest news from the agencies in their raw form and without advertising subscribed to the Executive News Service for USD 15 per hour (as of 1990). This separate area could be reached via the command GO ENS.


From 1991 the subsidiary of “H&R Block Inc.” recorded another enormous rise and reached a membership of one million. This year European users could also use the service.

In 1993 the company had a profit of 73 million US dollars before taxes. Three years later, Compuserve had over 4.5 million users and became the largest commercial online service in the world. The company maintained more than 200 computers of the type DEC PDP-10 at its headquarters , which were networked with one another and protected by uninterruptible power supplies ( UPS ). The entire administration building in Columbus was heated by the waste heat from the computers. Compuserve's database in 1996 was more than 700 gigabytes.

In 1997, H&R Block sold the company to WorldCom for $ 1.2 billion . This in turn sold the pure online service area, without the worldwide access technology or the network nodes, to AOL in 1998. AOL Europe and Bertelsmann AG each held 50 percent of the company in 1999. The number of users of Compuserve decreased steadily, while AOL gained itself. Together, they formed the world's largest online service with 21 million users . In addition, Compuserve was the first Internet service provider to offer an automatic dial-in configuration tool for Linux in addition to the common Windows versions (95, 98, 2000, NT, XP) and the Macintosh operating system . The CIM (CompuServe Information Manager) for OS / 2 was also on offer for a short time, but it was only very neglected.

After 1998

AOL introduced the new software "CompuServe 2000" - an AOL client that accessed Compuserve instead of AOL content, but handled technical things such as e-mail via AOL. The existing software and access via the Host Micro Interface (HMI) has been renamed “CompuServe Classic”. The Compuserve forums were accessed via the Internet (web view of the HMI forums).

AOL aligned Compuserve more than Internet service provider and closed most of the forums. Most forum operators tried to combine their existing forums in order to turn two or three not entirely profitable forums into one profitable one. However, AOL closed almost all of them and opened some new forums to replace them. The expectation that the concentration on a few new forums would bring the existing communities together was not fulfilled. The users of the previously existing forums left Compuserve, the remaining users were not sufficient to operate the new forums economically. The German support forums were replaced by a new one that was only accessible via the Internet - the number of CompuServe Classic users continued to decline . As a result, all German forums were closed and all advertising for Classic was discontinued. The development in the other European countries proceeded accordingly - sometimes with a time lag.

CompuServe 2000 did not prove itself in Europe and was completely discontinued. In the USA “CompuServe 2000” became a success due to low prices ( flat rate ) and considerable advertising.

"CompuServe GIF" graphic format

In 1987 Compuserve introduced the GIF graphics format, which is still widely used today , in which image data is relatively heavily compressed. Due to the low transmission rates of the modems available at the time, this was a very significant innovation (the JFIF and Portable Network Graphics (PNG) formats that are common today were only developed in 1991 and 1998, respectively). Because several images can be saved in one GIF file, which means that film-like files can also be transferred for the first time, GIF was way ahead of its competitors at the time. In 1989 Compuserve brought out an improved GIF version that also allowed transparency.

The rapid dissemination of GIF was possible because Compuserve only gave software manufacturers a license condition to mention its authorship.

While the company itself practically no longer plays a role in the market today, the "CompuServe GIF" is still used on millions of websites. Until October 2006, however, there was a risk of possible licensing requirements for the use of GIF files, so that the PNG format was specifically defined as a free alternative.

Situation in Germany


From 1991, Compuserve had its own network of nodes in Germany, which could be used in several German cities by dialing in over the phone.

Compuserve became known in Germany at the beginning of the 1990s through the distribution of installation programs on CD-ROMs that were enclosed in specialist magazines, but also through offers from numerous companies. From 1995 to 1997 Bianca Brinker was responsible for the information provider (publisher and broadcast) area in the DA CH region. During this time, online products from Ziff Davis, Schweizer Fernsehen SRF, Bayerischer Rundfunk BR etc. were created. Their first online product was Der Spiegel and so the user could receive the leading article of the weekly magazine Der Spiegel from Sunday including the current cover picture. But the Vobis forum that Dr. Neuhaus forum that Microsoft -Germany forum dpa -Pressemeldungen that Reuters - image database , the German course information and the Chip magazine forum contributed to the establishment and so was the Number of users in Germany in 1996 to over 200,000. In 1999 AOL and Compuserve together had over three million users in Germany.

Before its competitors (such as AOL) entered the German market, Compuserve only operated dial-up nodes in a few major German cities , which contributed to the nickname Compu $ erve: Most users had to pay long-distance telephone charges from the monopoly Deutsche Bundespost; in addition there were the time-dependent Compuserve fees; Because of the slow modems at the time, it took a long time to transfer files or images.

As of July 31, 2008, the remaining contracts in Germany were terminated and the online service discontinued. The “CompuServe Classic” tariff, which was technically supported in the USA, was discontinued on July 6, 2009. This was communicated to members by email on April 16, 2009.

Pioneer of the Internet

Compuserve was one of the most important pioneers of the Internet in Germany in the early and mid-1990s. With access software that was also to be installed by laypeople and transparent pricing, the company made a significant contribution to making internet use, which had hitherto been predominantly at universities, attractive for private users as well. Separate forums and an integrated e-mail client offered an attractive offer in addition to pure internet access .

While the Deutsche Bundespost Telekom stuck to the outdated BTX system until 1995 , Compuserve became the first mass provider of Internet access in Germany. Internet access, initially only intended as a bonus to its own considerable content, quickly brought the company to the forefront of the online movement. The number of users soon reached the million mark, although initially there were only a few dial-in nodes that most users had to dial using the Telekom long-distance tariff, which was very expensive at the time. The access software was distributed free of charge, for example through computer magazines, and new users were given a quota of free hours to test.

Thanks to the forums, which are only accessible to Compuserve customers, the company remained represented on the German market for some time after the triumphant advance of the WWW , but was largely pushed out of the market by AOL and T-Online as well as smaller providers due to a poor pricing policy at the end of the 1990s .

The Compuserve judgment

In Germany, the name Compuserve is associated with an important judgment in the case law on the Internet : In 1999, the District Court of Munich I ruled in favor of Compuserve that Internet providers, according to the Information and Communication Services Act (IuKDG), are not for news -Server distributed content can be held responsible. The corresponding guiding principle of the judgment read literally:

"(2) Service providers are only responsible for third-party content that they make available for use if they are aware of this content and it is technically possible and reasonable for them to prevent its use."

The judgment was preceded in 1997 by an indictment by the then head of Compuserve Germany, Felix Somm , for the distribution of child , violence and animal pornography . He was accused of having knowingly allowed corresponding image files from newsgroups to reach Compuserve customers, although this could have been prevented by suitable technical and organizational measures. Indexed computer games that contained swastikas or images of Hitler and glorified National Socialism were also available to German customers. As early as November 22, 1995, Compuserve blocked around 250 newsgroups worldwide as a result of a house search on allegations of disseminating illegal content in Germany, but released them again later because the vast majority of these newsgroups did not contain any pornography , but the blocking caused a storm of protest in the USA with wild insults against the German law enforcement authorities in the course of which, among other things, angry demonstrators in San Francisco had poured German beer into the sewer in front of television cameras . Although experts had denied the possibility of filtering such content by Compuserve Germany and even the public prosecutor demanded an acquittal, Somm was convicted in 1998 as an accomplice in the distribution of child pornography. It was a content hoster's first conviction for child pornography. He was acquitted in 1999 after both the defense and prosecution appeals in his favor.


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Spiegel Online from July 6, 2009 The oldest online service is offline.
  2. ^ Alfred Glossbrenner: The Complete Handbook of Personal Computer Communications. A Bible of the Online World. St. Martin's Press, New York, NY, 3rd edition 1989, pp. 103 ff., ISBN 0-312-03312-5 .
  3. Maurice A. Cox, Jr., * 1950, joined Compuserve in 1979, became its vice-president and head of the company from 1990 to 1995. See Columbus Library.
  4. For other, later online service providers, the SIGs were called "RoundTables", "Bulletin Boards" etc.
  5. Press release from March 1985, documented along with numerous others from
  6. New York Times, July 7, 1980, p. 17. The New York Times calls the project an "experiment" because nothing like it has existed before.
  7. Information Today, Volume 6, Issue 5, p. 46.
  8. The Times: Fireside access to sum of human knowledge, February 24, 1981, p. 15, translated from English.
  9. Heise News of July 3, 2008: CompuServe will be completely discontinued.
  10. ^ Never: CompuServe boss in court. In: heise online . May 12, 1998. Retrieved November 21, 2019 .
  11. Axel Kossel: CompuServe reacts to the porn charge. In: heise online . April 17, 1997, accessed November 21, 2019 .
  12. ^ Christiane Schulzki-Haddouti: Shock: Ex-CompuServe boss condemned. In: heise online . May 28, 1998. Retrieved November 21, 2019 .
  13. Harald Taglinger: CompuServe RIP In: Telepolis . July 7, 2009, accessed November 21, 2019 .
  14. Jo Bager: Porn trial: Somm acquitted. In: heise online . November 17, 1999, accessed November 21, 2019 .